Divorce makes daughter angry, mom gets the blame
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
THE PROBLEM: My (14 yo) daughter blames me for divorcing her father. I guess that makes sense (because I did), but I assure you I had good reasons for doing so. Since I don’t want to make ex-husband out to be the bad guy, I avoid putting him down in front of her. She can’t understand why I would break up our family, when ‘Dad’ is such a sweet guy. She says she never thought she would come from a broken family, and now here she is. I don’t think I need to tell you how guilty I feel about this, even though I am confident I did the right thing. I know there is no easy answer, but ideas would be helpful.
MARY SAYS: It would be one lucky parent who raises a child without feeling guilty about something. (Who me? I did everything right. My perfect kids are now perfect adults, all thanks to me.) Clearly, it’s a matter of degrees, and even then, it’s how you perceive it.
In other words, another mom might feel completely different about this.
So let’s start with how that ‘other’ mom might feel. Maybe she sees herself as freeing her daughter from the bondage of unhappy parents. Her daughter is now free to think clearly when she makes choices about her own life partner, rather than falling into an old, conditioned pattern. (Or rebelling against that pattern by choosing an opposite but equally destructive one.) Maybe that same daughter will come back to her mom later and say ‘thank you’ for letting her have healthy, if separate, relationships with Mom and Dad. Someday, that angry teenage girl might remember how her mom refused to disparage her father, no matter how painful the relationship had become between said parents.
Can you believe this storehouse of lifelong gifts comes straight from the few sentences you wrote? This leads me to believe there are many, many more treasures in there, and if you simply write them down, perhaps you will see them, too.
By writing them down, you will also be able to articulate them, especially with your daughter. Tell her that intact families can also be ‘broken,’ and that you are choosing a healthier way to live for all of you. Without burdening her with too many intimate details, describe how relationships can falter, sometimes beyond repair. By separating, you are offering your family a path forward, one where the people in it can send each other on their way with forgiveness, respect, and a heart full of best wishes.
ERIKA SAYS: Sweet mama, my heart goes out to you! I’m recently divorced, and I know from experience it’s not a place I ever planned to be in. Divorce doesn’t only affect husband and wife; the end of your marriage is as painful for your daughter as it is for the two of you.
While my son wasn’t as old as your daughter, my divorce impacted him greatly. In my case, I wasn’t the one who asked for a divorce, but I still felt tremendous guilt that our separation would be part of his story. I agonized, knowing he would now be a statistic, coming from a ‘broken home.’
I’m almost two years post-divorce, and every exchange, every holiday, every “first” stings. When my son returns from his father’s, he cries at bedtime, and it sends me down the rabbit hole of guilt. While his grief doesn’t look like anger, he does act out in age-appropriate ways. I can choose to let it send me to that (awful) place, or I can choose to rise above the obstacles and model resiliency.
The best thing you can do for your daughter is show her how to bounce back up when life knocks you off your feet.
It’s possible your daughter is not actually angry with you, but that she is hurting and grieving. By lashing out, she is processing the loss of the only thing she’s known as ‘family.’ Although my son doesn’t have memories of us all living together, when he got old enough to realize our dynamic looked different than that of his peers, he began to question why his father didn’t live with us. He was saddened by not having us both in the same home. He didn’t like having two homes—he felt somehow deprived.
So what could I do? I simply allowed him the space to feel his feelings and hear his heart’s cry. Creating a safe space for my son to share his pain gave me the opportunity to show up for him; it also created a bond between us as we healed together.
When your daughter has questions, it’s okay to explain your choice to end your marriage without providing too many details. In addition to an honest explanation, let her know the divorce is not her fault. Reassure her that your love—and her father’s love—for her won’t ever change, even if things aren’t amicable between the two of you.
Friction between you and your ex-husband can make your daughter feel like she has to choose between her parents. Protecting her from this conflict—and not speaking ill about her father—is the best thing you can do for her. My divorce was not a pretty one, to say the least, but in front of my son, I treat his father with respect. I continually encourage their relationship, regardless of my feelings towards my ex, because at the end of the day, he hurt me, not my son. I teach my son to honor, respect, and value his father for who he is and what he brings to my son’s life.
The most important part here is allowing your daughter to be angry so she can continue to move through the grieving process. Giving her the freedom to feel her pain will lead her to a place where she can begin to heal and adjust to a ‘new normal.’
Because life will begin to feel normal again. I promise. Every healing moment in this journey will provide you the freedom, joy, and hope you need to move forward. Continue to offer grace, forgiveness, and resiliency, and your daughter will begin to do so, too
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! email@example.com
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.